Living Dead Girls - Chapter 1
© 2009 - Randal Snyder
In the city of Ren, there are some things that are not allowed in "civilized" society. But outside the walls is another matter entirely.
Young people are dying of mysterious causes. What is worse, their graves are being robbed as well. The group will discover the macabre trade of corpses on the slave market and possibly more.
You may run this adventure in any major city that maintains an aristocracy similar to the medieval lordship/nobility. For our purposes, the city is Ren in the Thorin Mountains to the north of the Freedlends. See the map here.
This adventure is intended to take three to five game sessions. Our run of the adventure lasted closer to five sessions as we went off-script and mixed in elements of other adventures along with the Living Dead Girls plot.
Over a millennia ago, the gods created a device that was to unlock the secrets of death allowing for the potential for eternal life. The Order of the Seekers has discovered this device and are experimenting with it in order to discover its properties. However, the fuel for the device is limited and supplies are dwindling.
As part of their experiments, the Seekers used freshly dead corpses and found the device worked! It could bring a person back from the dead.
Realizing the extreme cost of the experiments and being the City of Merchants, the Seekers turned to the markets to profit from their experiments. The corpses were sold to slavers who in turn would sell them as the "perfect" slaves - obedient to a fault, fearless, and virtually indestructible.
Yet another funeral procession passes through the streets. Today they burry a young girl of sixteen years, just barely a woman. Her name is Myranda and though an orphan, her uncle bares the tears of a father who loved her. It would not have been so tragic had it not been so sudden. The priests claimed that a foul vapor had taken her in the night or that a wraith had stolen her soul. The cause did not matter so much to Gedrin Smith, but that his niece was dead was all that mattered.
Had this one tragedy been all that transpired it would have been sufficiently devastating for any family. But tragedy comes in threes. That night as the night watch patrolled, robbers came to her grave. Though they claimed the meager offerings for the toll of Mortarious, they took what was most precious to the smith - the body of his beloved Myranda.
With news came the rage and desperation of a man on the edge. A bounty was placed at city hall, one-hundred silver to anyone who returned Myranda to him.
Should the characters take the bounty they will meet a man in his late thirties, strong and scarred from years of working the forge and furnace, Gedrin the smith. His smithy is near the North Wall of the city and he has a prominent business and has amassed a small fortune through his trades and such. The shop is fairly large including the smithy with three forges and a half-dozen apprentices and journeymen and a shop near by with the boarding house above. He is a member of the smithy guild, but since this was a personal matter, the guild could do little but offer their condolences.
He offers the group one-hundred silver for the return of his niece in whatever condition she may be. Grief and rage boil beneath the surface throughout the conversation. His devotion to his family is genuine and deep. (Note: If the group returns with news about Myranda being alive, the smith will raise his offer to 500 silver.)
Myranda was a young girl with long, straight black hair and the face of an angel, slender of frame, but healthy and fit. Those who knew her thought her to be the most beautiful woman in town. The smith will reminisce about her childhood and her dreams of being a noble courtesan.
If the group takes the bounty they will receive a badge from the Committee of Public Service, the bureaucratic arm of the city that authorizes official bounties. The badge is a leather piece in the shape of a shield which includes the short description of the case. This gives the group a small bit of leeway into breaking laws, so long as their actions can be tied back to the bounty they are working. Major offenses though will not be tolerated.
Cause of Death
The priests of the temple of Mortarious barely spent a moment trying to figure out why Myranda died. Their duties were to prepare the girl for burial, not investigate her death.
If asked, Gedrin will take the group upstairs to a bedroom where several cots lay around. The home is made of wood and brick, a sign of the smith's wealth, and the room is the family room with two windows. This is where the girls slept. Gedrin has three daughters, but his wife died giving birth to his son.
A Progressive Perception test T# 30, Action Cost 5 minutes, will discover a tiny black barb underneath the bed near the window. The dart is only a few millimeters thick and about one centimeter long. An Education T# 25 determines that it is a barb from a spinney fig - a plant that grows in the Lotus Nations to the East and possibly made by goblins. A Perception check of 15 reveals a slight oily substance on the barb. The oil is a nerve toxin that paralyses the victim and renders them unconscious before stopping their heart. Fortunately, it neutralizes after a few hours of exposure to air so none of the characters is in danger of being poisoned.
At this point, it is pretty obvious that the girl was murdered.
Scene of the Crime
If asked, the Smith will take them to the cemetery, but little can be learned here. The grounds keeper, an elderly goblin known as Naggy has already told the guards what he saw. Naggy is of the green-stripe clan of goblins which sport a bright green line down either side of his face and neck starting at the jaw and disappearing beneath the collar of his brown tunic. Though only forty years old, Naggy appears to be in his late sixties or early seventies by human standards.
Naggy loves to talk, but not to listen. He will ramble about this and that, complaining about wolves digging up the graves, grumpy undertakers, and teens using the graveyard as their mating grounds. If asked about the grave robbers he will repeat himself and talk in circles. The goblin is not senile nor insane, just lonely. As a result he comes off as if he is nagging.
If shown the badge, and if the group gets a word in edgewise, he will repeat what he saw in a mumbling, round about way. See the Witnesses section below.
As part of their basic investigation, the night patrol questioned several people who might have been witnesses to the grave robbery. The old caretaker, Naggy, reluctantly confessed to seeing six men drag a wagon onto the site. He recognized one man as Jess the Whip, a man known to work for a slag named Talig Nagal. No one else really saw anything useful except one youth saw them heading North from the cemetery.
Asking for Trouble
Asking around about either Jess the Whip or Talig Na'gal will point the group to some of the seedier places in town including the brothels, gambling huts, and opium houses.
The group will likely get some attention from the locals who, depending on how obviously well armed the group is, will try to ambush them and steal their money pouches. The thugs would be armed with clubs and knives and will flee if one of the PCs prove he is a capable fighter. They will try to grab and run.
However, if the group is wearing obvious armor and weapons, one of the thugs will offer to tell the group where they can find Talig and Jess - for a fee. If intimidated the thug will lie - he has a very high Deception (SA 15). If paid ten silver, he tells them the following:
"They been settin up shop North, bout a league from town. Downs there in the woods they's a clearing an you'll find the wares come out at night. Jess is the slag's best man. But he'd turn for the right price.
Yuz might want to bring your money purse for the auction 'case you find somethin that suits yer fancy."
The man makes no attempt to conceal his corrupt nature and the group gets the feeling that he will likely make a silver or two from telling Talig that they were asking around. If asked about what they will find, he will lower his voice and say - "slaves". He will refuse to give his real name and instead will give them the name, Thomas Mumbler.
Slavery is legal within the city, however the city has strict rules against selling slaves. As a trading nation, Ren is neutral to many customs that it deems "uncivilized" while at the same time doing their best to profit from their liberal stance of allowing "cultural balance". As a result, the illegal trade happens outside the city where the guilds cannot enforce the laws of Ren. As a general rule, if you can see the city then you are bound by the laws of it.
Asking around too much might gain the group more attention than they bargained for. In fact, they might gain a point of Reputation for being nosey, bossy, or whatever is appropriate for their attitude.
If the group follows Thomas Mumbler's directions, they will find their way out the North Gate of the city and into the wilderness. This part of the mountains is lush with a thick evergreen forest mixed with rocky, hilly terrain. Occasional patches of impenetrable jungle are common, but normally the forest is clear and easy to travel. Visibility in the forest is fairly good as there is little underbrush.
Following the road about three kilometers they will come to a small clearing with a cave in the side of a hill on the north side. At the foot of the hill is a small wooden platform or stage and several fire pits surround the clearing. The appearance of the clearing depends on the time of day that the characters arrive.
During the morning or early afternoon, the clearing will be cluttered with trash and refuse and rodents and birds will be feasting on the left over foodstuffs tossed around. It is obvious that people frequent this area and judging by the food, it happened the previous night.
In the early evening, there will be several merchants travelling to the same clearing via the many roads and trails that cut through the woods. They will be carrying various wares from the highly illegal to the common. Food and drink venders are very common, but the group may encounter a relic vender.
Relics are generally counterfeit or fake, but the venders will swear that the relics are from the age of the God-Wars. Most trinkets are chips of steel or other metal that the smiths can't identify. However, occasionally there will be a legitimate relic, a device, working or not, that dates back to the God-Wars over one thousand years ago. One such relic is a finding-stone, a small silver or black stone of unusual properties with a silver, green, or blue crystal in the center of the black. If the finding stone works, the crystal will glow with an inner light and project an illusion of an ancient map with ancient words scrawled about the map. These venders will often claim the finding stone will lead to treasure if you can find someone to translate the map.
Other relics could be bones claimed to be of the gods Siverandora or Zecharias or even the great Phylinx general Corak.
Other venders may include drinks and smoke, potion makers and herbalists, or soothsayers who will tell your fortune for a fee. Later in the evening entertainers will begin to file in. There may even be a priest selling blessings or a Vex Eater who will consume your evil spirits. Most of these venders who claim to have magical powers are lying and use parlor tricks, accomplices, or a crude form of hypnosis.
As the night wares on the clearing will be filled with venders, party-goers, and those shopping for what they cannot legally buy within the city walls. The larger merchants employ their own security so there will be numerous well armed, muscular mercenaries around for security. As a result, most people behave, however a drunken fight or two are quite common.
With the arrival of midnight the music will come to an end with a declaration - the auction is about to begin. Several venders will offer up their slaves for auction. Young docile slaves will sell for 500 silver. Adults tend to sell for 700. A phylinx female will sell for up to 1000 silver. The slaves run the gamut from all of the common races of Thorin including some humans from Nilem across the mountains. Phylinx, Kanis, Slag, Goblins, Kobolds, and so on could be traded.
Finally, a monster of a humanoid stands upon the hill and with a booming deep voice calls down, "Silence! Make ready for the angel of the night, the doll of your wildest dreams. She is the perfect slave, obedient to the last." The speaker is an ogre by the name of Borgd, the muscle for Talig. The ogre stands chest and head taller than any human in the crowd and twice as wide. Though his sloped forehead makes him look dim-witted, Borgd speaks fluently and clearly, but with a thunder that rumbles from deep within his chest.
The crowd goes quiet as a young girl, dressed in white with jet black hair steps to the edge of the hill overlooking the crowd. She is stunningly beautiful and matches the description of Myranda, the girl who had died a few nights before. The dress accents her body and is low cut to expose some cleavage. Unlike the other slaves who were bound or had obvious signs of abuse, Myranda is unchained save a small silver medallion hanging from her neck that glints in the fire light.
To her side stands a snake-like Slag, dressed in fine silk vest and pants. The slag continues the pitch, "Note the beauty, the elegance and grace. Dance for us." As requested, Myranda begins to dance a common dance of the locals. "More seductive," the slag demands and the girl complies. "Note her complete obedience!" His words come out accenting the "S". "Now, girl. Take this knife and cut your palm." Without a word the young woman complies. The audience gasps and groans as the squeamish wince. "Not enough. Stab your hand and show the crowd." Once again she does as what was commanded and shows the knife to the crowd sticking through her hand. A few people faint. "We start the bidding at 10,000 coins." For dramatic effect, Talig draws the dagger from the girls hand and wipes the blade on her white dress.
The bidding roars to a feverish pace until 30,000 coins is reached. The pace slows and Talig addresses the crowd once more, lifts the girl's hand. "She is healed! No matter what you do to her, she will always recover! Imagine the forbidden pleasures you could enjoy!" Once again the bidding continues until the final price, 105,000 silver coins!
Ultimately the winning bid goes to a goblin trader, Sor'n Ta'all, a merchant who specializes spices, silk, and alchemical powders. He is extremely wealthy and influential and will be difficult to approach.
Talig Nagal is protected by a number of thugs and in particular, the ogre Borgd. Most of the slaver's enforcers will be near the cave. In addition to the ogre, there will be roughly six thugs scattered through the woods equipped with swords, axes, and knives.
Should the group try to attack them, use the stats below. If the attack comes during the auction, there will be dozens of other merchant's men in the area. Most will simply protect their masters, but some of the merchants are loyal to Talig and will command their men to attack also. The players should lose horribly as this is extremely foolish.
Planning an attack away from the auction is the best solution. Allow the group to plan and mix and match their opponents as appropriate, however, Talig never goes anywhere without Borgd.
If the slavers win the fight, they will steal everything that the group has and leave them for dead. Anyone who is caught will be interrogated to find out who sent them. They will gather up some more men and attack the Smith's house and kill everyone inside and then flee the city for the borders of the goblin nations.
However, if the players are victorious and capture one of the slavers he will gladly spill the beans on the whole setup in exchange for his life. If Talig is captured alive, he will offer the group bribes, to hire them on, and so on. He is a businessman and sees everything through the eyes of a negotiation. Everyone has a price.
Assuming the group managed to capture one of the salvers, he will explain the system in detail:
A few months ago Talig was approached by a man named Horace. The two spoke about the slave business and Horace offered Talig a sample of his slaves, an old woman who was completely obedient.
Talig was intrigued and sold her at auction fetching a very handsome price despite her age and wrenched appearance. At first, none of the slavers knew where Horace got his slaves, but soon several of the men began robbing graves and delivering the corpses to a clearing in the woods.
About six months ago, Talig had some of the men go out on a special mission. That was when the slaves became significantly more attractive, younger, and more appealing overall. One of the men's duties was to scout out attractive young women and men and within a few weeks, those young people would be up for auction.
None of the slavers know what Horrace does with the bodies or where he takes them after the drop-off. He pays them a fee for their services and then Talig buys the slaves in return and auctions them for a profit.
However, there was talk of "failures". Apparently a couple of the slaves began rotting as a corpse does and their owners demanded refunds.
Sor'n Ta'all is a middle-aged goblin of some 35 years. His once thick black head of hair is faded and thin and his belly is portly. However, he has impeccable taste in style and those he surrounds himself with. He dresses in the latest fashions, usually in silk or expensive fabrics. He is the excentric playboy among the goblin folk and often flaunts his wealth in unusual ways, such as buying the "perfect" slave. It is as much to do with status as it is to be seen doing it.
Sor'n is well known throughout the community and anyone at the auction will be glad to tell the group about him. He is a sort of celebrity and buys slaves at least three times per year. Rumor has it that he is very harsh with his slaves and often leaves them crippled or worse.
His entourage consists of three highly skilled swordsmen who also act as his stable masters and task masters as well as the pretty, petty people who surround him. He is fond of throwing lavish parties that often end in debauchery of all manners unspeakable in polite company.
However, he is also a shrewd businessman and member of the city council. As part of the immensely powerful traders guild, he demands the authority of nobility though holds no titles.
Since Myranda is a new toy to him, he will have the woman by his side at all times. She will be dressed in a silk hooded gown decorated with serpents and dragons of blue, gold, and red. Around her neck is a simple silver medallion.
The issue is how to approach the goblin. His home is a gated and walled two-story home with several watchmen on staff. An obvious attack would be futile as the gates are extremely strong.
However the group decides to approach, Sor'n will have his three swordsmen nearby and between two and six patrons.
Should the group rescue Myranda, she will be with Sor'n Ta'all at all times. He has done unspeakable things to her as the old goblin has quite a sick taste in entertainment. Use your imagination.
The girl has been transformed. Though she appears to be a zombie, this is actually a side effect of the experiment that brought her back to life. Her skin has a silvery sheen to it and her eyes a long, distant stare and she obeys all commands.
In all actuality, she is mostly normal.
If the medallion is removed from her neck she will wake from her stupor and begin to talk to the group. She has been emotionally scarred by her experience and is terrified of everyone. Once the goblin found out that she was more or less normal after the medallion was removed, he took it off only to torture her and then put it back on when she was freed from her chains.
The medallion is a simple silver disk about 1/2 centimeters thick. If pried open, a spark and pop will sound followed by a pungent smoke and the medallion will be ruined. Inside is a liquid with what appears to be gems fastened to the inside of the medallion.
Despite the physical abuse she has endured, her body does not show it. Yet another side effect of the experiment is the regeneration of flesh that occurs.
This adventure is only the beginning and will lead to further adventure. Those that created Myranda will make themselves known in due time. In addition, Jess the Whip is still around and looking for those who killed his friend and employer.
Returning Myranda to her uncle will be rewarded with 500 silver and the smith will understand that he needs to leave the city. He plans to go to across the mountains to Nilem and will be gone in a day or two. As extra thanks, he offers the group one of his spears, bill hooks, a crossbow, or other fairly common weapon that he has made.